Everyone relies on the integrity of digital information, from the citizen to heads of government. It is essential that this information is preserved for future generations, just as traditional records have been preserved for us on paper and parchment.
Digital preservation is the care and management of original electronic records. These records are sometimes described as ‘born-digital’. These are different from scanned copies of paper or parchment records and include emails, websites, databases and digital images and video.
The preservation of digital records presents a number of challenges because:
- the equipment and software needed to view digital records may become obsolete
- media such as tapes and discs deteriorate very quickly even if they do not appear to be damaged
- the context of a digital record and its relation to other records can easily be lost
We are increasingly turning our minds towards the issues of scale and speed of transfer, which we believe to be the major challenges of digital preservation.
Our approach to digital preservation is summarised in the paper below:
Parsimonious preservation paper (PDF, 0.04Mb)
Digital preservation tools developed by The National Archives
PRONOM is an online database containing details of more than 1,000 different digital file formats. Along with DROID our file format identification tool, which uses the database, PRONOM enables digital archivists, records managers and anyone using the tool to find out what files they have, in which formats and how best to ensure their long-term preservation.
The DROID tool scans a computer or hard drive and identifies files either through its file extension (for example .doc for Word files) or by matching the file’s internal signature with specific entries in the PRONOM database. Internal signatures are a far more accurate way of identifying file formats, as extensions can be easily changed or deleted.
Currently around a third of the entries in the PRONOM database have internal signatures. The more signatures there are in the database, the more accurate the DROID tool is at identifying files, and the greater its use to the digital preservation community. Positively identifying file formats is the first step to ensuring their long-term preservation, since it enables digital archivists to identify older file formats which may be in danger of becoming obsolete. It also allows them to develop migration strategies and preservation tools to deal with them.